In a broad-ranging talk with members of the Association of State Baptist Publications (ASBP), Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear urged Southern Baptists to be a people known for the gospel.
Christian Index photo by Scott Barkley
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear talks with members of the Association of State Baptist Publications Feb. 12.
The meeting, which lasted more than 40 minutes, took place at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston during the ASBP’s annual meeting.
“This conversation is very complex,” he admitted, referring to a recent investigative report published in the Houston Chronicle about sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches. “… But I also understand this is a time for us to lament and to grieve. I do not believe you can in any way push this aside as an agenda-driven thing put out by the secular media to try to destroy us.”
And even if that were the case, said Greear, it doesn’t allow Southern Baptists to ignore the damage.
“There’s a problem. And we want to respond to this with humility … [and] by owning a wrong. If there is a time and a place to defend ourselves maybe that will come later, but it is not now. We’ll trust God to defend us; we’ll trust God to bring truth to light.”
He acknowledged that it’s likely most churches inadvertently create environments for predators through situations such as lack of training or education. Those environments, he added, become “safer for abusers than they are for victims.” In the cases exhibiting malicious intent to protect an abuser, Greear said Southern Baptists need to be unified on how to handle those situations.
Female-majority council to bring recommendations
Steps to address sexual abuse were developed by a diverse council made up mostly of women, said Greear, and which he will present at Monday’s Executive Committee meeting. He also noted this will be a culmination of meetings begun last July to address sexual abuse in the SBC.
“Nobody timed this,” he said. “The Houston Chronicle article was totally outside of our control. I am grateful that in the providence of God it’s coming around at the same time that we had already originally planned to say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing’ [regarding sexual abuse].”
Right now, he stressed, is a time to hear others out.
“We’ve got a lot more to learn. So let’s learn and listen to victims and advocates … and survivors … so that we can be a gospel witness in this time and reflect the gospel so our churches can be the safest places on the planet for somebody that’s vulnerable.”
‘A gospel people’
Responding to a question from The Index, Greear urged Southern Baptists to refrain from finding ways to explain away the Chronicle report’s findings. “This is not a time for sermonizing, virtue-signaling, posturing, or trying to point out where else it happens,” he said.
“The safety of victims is more important than the reputation of Southern Baptists.”
Greear began his time with the group emphasizing his desire for Southern Baptists to be known as a “gospel people.”
“When people think and talk about us they ought to think and talk about the gospel. That means there has to be some discipline and restraint at what we do because there are a lot of good and important things that can eat up [attention] and we aren’t talking about the thing (the gospel) we’re supposed to be talking about.”
Celebrate, not cause, diversity
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., also reasserted his desire for the SBC to celebrate diversity “without causing it.”
“By God’s grace we’re one of the more diverse groups of churches in the nation. [Around] 20 percent of our membership is non-Anglo. The North American Mission Board … [President] Kevin Ezell told me that of all the churches they planted last year 62 percent were non-Anglo. I know in North Carolina that number is 65 percent. That’s amazing.”
Greear, however, expressed regret that SBC leadership hasn’t reflected that diversity. The Committee on Committees – to which the SBC president appoints members – is comprised of highly-qualified candidates regardless of ethnicity, he vowed.
“When you first look for someone to recommend for a job, you tend to go with people you know. I don’t think [anything] has been done with malicious intent. We decided to ask people who aren’t in the normal networks but fully-participating, cooperating Southern Baptists. Let’s get membership that reflects who Southern Baptists really are, where we want to go, and who we want to be.”
Leadership input from previously untapped areas, he stated, will make the SBC a stronger messenger for the gospel. His appointments for the Committee on Committees are made up of 45 men and 23 women. The average age is 43 with the youngest being 22 and oldest 73. Half are non-Anglo.
“We need the wisdom and leadership going forward of people who don’t look and think just like us,” Greear said. “We need different voices at the table.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was originally published at ChristianIndex.org. Used by permission.)